Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Okay, Internet, That's Just Mean.

Greetings, WYMOP fans!
If you’ve spent any time on the internet (and right now kind of proves that you do, don’t deny it), then you’ve probably been to Amazon.com, and have at least seen Facebook. There are other shopping sites and social media platforms out there, and what I’m about to say applies to them as well, but for simplicity’s sake (and because I mostly just deal with these two) I’m only going to talk about Amazon and Facebook here. Now, in going to these two sites, I’ve noticed something: they’re watching me. Oh, I know what you’re saying. “Oh, Rob, you’re just being paranoid.” But I’m not paranoid: the internet is watching me. I see it all the time in the advertising—advertising that’s being tailor-made, and then remade for me, constantly, by tracking programs and algorithms I never even see . . . until they throw it right in my face.
When I go to Amazon, their landing page is covered with “suggestions”—stuff I’ve looked at in the past, as well as stuff like what I’ve looked at; just in case I’ve forgotten the kind of thing I like, they’re keeping a file on me. I understand that, any good shopkeeper does that, especially for a frequent customer. But it gets worse. More invasive. And requires just a bit of internet teamwork.
I pause on Amazon to casually look at something that caught my eye, and the next time I check my Facebook page, I see a trend in the “Sponsored Ads” column on the screen. Suddenly, all the ads lean heavily toward whatever I was looking at—and if I peruse several things over on Amazon, they somehow choose, by means I cannot fathom, just what they think I’m interested in, and shoot me advertising for that alone.
Sometimes this is all well and good: I looked up roof rack systems for my car on Amazon, and found several options I’d not yet seen in the ads that followed on Facebook. There was, however, the time I was talking to someone about what’s selling with regard to books these days, and they told me that Bigfoot porn was a thing. A thing that’s selling. “Not possible!” said I. “You must be joking!” And I went straight to Amazon . . .
 . . . where I found that yes, Bigfoot porn is a thing! I used to laugh at the old Weekly World News story about a woman marrying Bigfoot, but someone out there apparently said “Oh, hell, I can do better than that!” And they did do better. And worse. Much worse. It was terrible, and shocking—and I honestly laughed my ass off just scrolling down the page and looking at the titles they’d come up with. One of the “Look Inside” functions let me know more than I ever wanted to know about sasqutatchian anatomy (also a huge laugh, if a slightly wide-eyed one), and that was that. I went back to the person I’d been talking with and told them they were right, and I was wrong; Bigfoot erotica was a thing
Then, a couple of days later, I was showing my son a video on Facebook when I realized just what was in that “Sponsored Ads” column: Bigfoot books. Right there on the screen, just beside the video of  the Houston Astros mascot in a dance-off with a security guard, was a series of book ads with titles like Lusty Bigfoot Runs Amok, Bigfoot and the Barely Legal Blonde, and My Mom Married a Horny Bigfoot. The video ended and the boy walked away, and I had no idea whether he’d been too engrossed in the video to see the ads, of if he too had been frozen in absolute horror, wondering just what the hell his dad was into.
I still don’t know. And just in case you’re wondering, yes, those are all real book titles, available on Amazon.
You’re probably sitting back and shaking your heads right about now. “It’s just directed advertising, you idiot!” you’re saying. “Who do you think sponsors those stupid ads on Facebook, anyway?” And yes, that sort of thing is pretty obvious—but that’s how clever they are: they use the obvious to cover up the subtle.
This is how obvious they can be. I’m a writer, and I go to Amazon to buy  books. We all do. But one of the things I also go to Amazon for is to track books. For instance: last year I edited a book called Demonic Visions, Book 5, and it’s doing pretty well. It was my first editing job, with my name on the book cover and everything, and it’s been hanging about in the list of the top 100 best-selling horror anthologies in the Kindle store. It made it as high as number three on the list, spent a while on the Top Ten list, and has been bee-bopping around to various positions in this top 100 for about eight months now, and I have to admit I’ve been tracking its movements with childlike glee the whole time. As I write this, I can tell you it’s currently number seventy-four on the list—and in a field of thousands, I have to say that feels pretty damned good.
Every Friday, without fail, Amazon sends me an email. This email starts off “Rob, based on your recent visit, we thought you might be interested in these items,” and then they try to sell me Demonic Visions 5! Like I don’t already have about ten . . . okay, exactly eleven copies of that book on the shelf in my room? How many copies of this thing do they think I need? And I did buy one from Amazon when it first came out—I was just so excited to see my name on the cover—so somewhere in their great big thinking machines there is a record saying I’ve already bought the damn thing! What the hell, Amazon? Are you too busy tracking me to keep an eye on yourself?
But that is them being pushy. That is them being obvious, like a good magician calling your attention to their left hand while the right performs the trick. Now, this is where the subtle comes in.
A couple of weeks ago, you may recall I posted a blog called “Forty-Six-And-A-Half,” about playing basketball with my son, and what it was doing to my physically aging body. As I do every week, I posted a link to my blog on Facebook. Some people read the post, and a few of them commented, and commiserated, and we had some laughs.
Then, last Tuesday, my son didn’t want to play basketball, so instead I went for a run. Sort of. When I got back in the house (wheezing and wobbling), I threw a little status post onto Facebook:
Just got back from trying to go for a run, and it's official:
I am in the worst shape of my entire life.
feeling disgusted.
Again, a few people commented, and commiserated, and we had some laughs. There was no shopping, there were no links, just a couple of conversational posts on Blogspot and Facebook—nothing to do with Amazon. And then . . .
Friday I awoke expecting my weekly sales push from Amazon. They usually send it sometime between three and four in the morning, when internet traffic is low. But this past Friday, I woke up, checked my email . . . and found not a thing from Amazon. Nothing! I was surprised, to say the least—amazed is more like it—and I zeroed in on the correct time slot in my incoming mail box, just to be sure . . . and rather than my usual book-pushing Amazon email, I found this:

From : Burial Insurance Options
Subject : Burial Life Insurance could save you money
Sent: Fri, Aug 28, 2015 03:14 AM

Okay, Internet, that’s just mean.

Talk to you later!
. . . maybe.

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